words // Nick DePaula:
In recent years, Nike co-founder Phil Knight has given increasingly less interviews, as he’s allowed for current CEO Mark Parker to step in and become the face of the company.
Knight recently spoke with USA Today about his career steering the Nike brand, in what would be his first interview since the April announcement that he’d soon be stepping down as Chairman in 2016.
He teases that he’ll still remain very much involved with the company — “I won’t walk away. I’ll be carried away.” — and also shares some insights on how he worries about every one of Nike’s biggest competitors, who the real MVP behind the success of Jordan Brand was, and how he dealt with the sudden death of his 34 year-old son Matthew.
Here are a few key highlights from the interview:
Stepping down as Nike Inc. Chairman:
“I’m not going away. I’m going to keep my office and I’ll stay involved with the company, but I think it’s time to move on, to the extent that I think Mark Parker should succeed me as Chairman. It’ll give him a time to really look over his successor, and I think for Nike, it’s by far the right thing to do. I’m very comfortable with it.”
Worrying about the competition:
“You look around and there are three or four different guys. The industry has changed enormously. I’ll just say it’s grown and the companies that are in the industry are in more different areas than ever before. So Under Armour is a very serious competitor, but Adidas is the next biggest and they’ve got a lot of money to spend and they have a lot of capability. We worry about them all. And it isn’t just shoes. In golf, we compete against Titleist. In women’s athletic gear, we compete against Lululemon, so we worry about them all.”
The real MVP behind Jordan Brand:
“There are a lot of people that want to take credit for signing Michael Jordan, most obviously Sonny Vaccaro, who’s been on ESPN saying he was the key to the thing. Sonny helped, but he wasn’t the MVP in that process. The MVP over the 25 years that it’s been in existence has really been Tinker Hatfield. Michael trusting Tinker and Tinker understanding who Michael was, they really brought his true self into those products, and obviously they’ve been hugely successful.”
Coping with the accidental deep-sea diving death of his son Matthew:
“I got something like 2,000 or 2,500 letters. The best one I got was a letter from a guy named Gordy Crawford. He said, ‘I locked up my desk and I couldn’t go back to work for 6 months, and then I did.’ It was really helpful, in the sense that I kind of wanted to go to work and I kind of wanted to interact with people, but I couldn’t function. It’s something a parent never gets over. They say, ‘When do you get over it?’ You never get over it. Ever. But you get to so you can function, you get to so you can laugh at jokes again. That’s kind of the way it is.”
Check out the video below for Phil’s thoughts on his career at Nike.